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William James Charles Darwin

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1 William James Charles Darwin
EMBODIED LANGUAGE Mindwords Emotions William James Charles Darwin Robin Allott 5 October 2012


3 Mind Words in English Japanese French German Russian Chinese Sanskrit Hebrew
The comparative Table in the next slide shows that in very different languages words for aspects of the functioning of the mind for the most part match very closely words found in the English lexicon. There are a few surprising mismatches, notably the absence in some languages of distinct words for ‘mind’ and ‘self’ matching the English words. It is notable that for most of the words listed there are few or no similarities in word-structure which could be explained as the result of borrowing or etymological relationships. Damasio Antonio The Feeling of What Happens 1999 pp.232-3 "In Romance languages ... one single word denotes both conscience and consciousness. ...Curiously, unlike English or German, Romance languages also have no word for ‘self’



6 The syntactic words in the table above, together with pronouns and prepositions (or grammatical inflections in other languages), play a central role in sentence structure.

7 FUNCTION WORDS click Click for demonstration of hand and arm activity linked to function words. To return to show PRESS Close

8 See the attached file www.kantcats.htm
Function words as pre-linguistic aspects of the mind (in Kant’s sense) and as an embodied aspect of the neural sensory-motor system. See the attached file click To return to show PRESS Close


10 "Our natural way of thinking about these coarser emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression. My theory, on the contrary, is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur, is the emotion. We feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be. Objects do excite bodily changes by a preorganized mechanism, changes are so indefinitely numerous and subtle that the entire organism may be called a sounding-board which every change of consciousness however slight may make reverberate. The various permutations and combinations of which these organic activities are susceptible make it abstractly possible that no shade of emotions however slight, should be without bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its total, as is the mental mood itself.” Principles of Psychology Vol






The comparative table of Mindwords in a range of major languages [click] indicates that whilst most languages have as full a set of words to refer to the operations of the mind there is no apparent etymological relation between the words. The immediate question is by what process in each of the different language communities did these abstract words emerge. Abstract means that unlike words for visual objects, heard sounds and perceived actions there is no external source from which the sound-structures of words such as mind, memory, truth, conscious etc can be derived. Vision, action and sound words can plausibly be seen as originating from gesture and imitation (plus mirror neurons). Gestures and imitated sounds could have been transduced by the processes of motor equivalence into articulatory gestures - which is what spoken words are.

The naming of aspects of the functioning of the human mind must have been the work of an individual or individuals in each of the language communities for which mindwords are found (as in the comparative table). Some individual or individuals must have had the capacity to be aware of the different features of the operation of their own minds before there could be words for them, that is those individuals were able to use introspection to observe the functioning of their minds - as in principle present-day human beings can. We need to examine for ourselves the manner, potentialities and products of introspection (considered notably by Francisco Varela).

Wilhelm Wundt and William James, though they had their differences were agreed on the importance of introspection as a foundation for progress in psychology. Wundt (the first professional psychologist) had as his objective a rigorously scientific use of introspection for investigation of the mind. James declared that belief in introspection was the most fundamental postulate of psychology. He based his Principles of Psychology on a regular and intelligent use of introspection. How then did introspection fall into disuse and even into denigration in the new academic study of psychology? There was a 180 degree switch which took the form of behaviorism as promoted by James Watson. In recent times there has been a swing back to recognition of the uses of introspection - the literature now is extensive. However the literature is flawed since for the most part the attempt to understand and exploit introspection has been confined within the limits of standard experimental methods of academic psychology, for example using verbal questioning of student subjects so that standard statistical methods can be applied. What has been lacking academically (for the most part) is the personal approach to introspection as pursued fruitfully by James and Wundt.

19 William James on Introspection
“Introspective Observation is what we have to rely on first and foremost and always. The word introspection need hardly be defined -- it means, of course, the looking into our own minds and reporting what we there discover. Everyone agrees that we there discover states of consciousness. All people unhesitatingly believe that they feel themselves thinking, and that they distinguish the mental state as an inward activity or passion, from all the objects with which it may cognitively deal. I regard this belief as the most fundamental of all the postulates of Psychology, and shall discard all curious inquiries about its certainty as too metaphysical for the scope of this book.” Principles of Psychology Vol. I p.185 [Dover 1950]

Whilst introspection has been used extensively by psychologists particularly in the 19th century (Wundt, James, Titchener and many others), the history of the systematic use of introspection goes back many centuries. In Asia there has been a long tradition of mind-awareness found in many different religious practices often seen as a way to establish contact with gods or as a route to clarity, calmness and quiescence of mind. There has also been persistent criticism that introspection cannot be a reliable scientific method because it does not lend itself to objective description, quantitative measurement and standard psychophysical experimental techniques. In the study of mind, consciousness and inner experience this has resulted in what might be termed second-grade methods of investigation, typically using verbalising techniques which depend on question and answer reports by subjects responding to programmed stimulation. The question now is whether a radical change in the approach to introspection is needed to make possible a better understanding of the relation between mind activity and body activity (having regard to the remarkable new possibilities for investigating brain activity with advances in neuroscientific techniques).

21 James, W. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. Vol. 1
James, W The Principles of Psychology. Vol. 1. Republished by Dover, New York 1950. "Let me try to state those particulars which to my own consciousness seem indubitable and distinct. In the first place, the acts of attending, assenting, negating, making an effort, are felt as movements of something in my head. In many cases it is possible to describe these movements quite exactly. In attending to either an idea or a sensation belonging to a particular sense- sphere, the movement is the adjustment of the sense-organ, felt as it occurs. I cannot think in visual terms, for example, without feeling a fluctuating play of pressures, convergences, divergences, and accommodations in my eyeballs. The direction in which the object is conceived to lie determines the character of these movements, the feeling of which becomes, for my consciousness, identified with the manner in which I make myself ready to receive the visible thing. My brain appears to me as if all shot across with lines of direction, of which I have become conscious as my attention has shifted from one sense-organ to another, in passing to successive outer things, or in following trains of varying sense-ideas. When I try to remember or reflect, the movements in question, instead of being directed towards the periphery, seem to come from the periphery inwards and feel like a sort of withdrawal from the outer world. As far as I can detect, these feelings are due to an actual rolling outwards and upwards of the eyeballs, such as I believe occurs in me in sleep, and is the exact opposite of their action in fixating a physical thing. In reasoning, I find that I am apt to have a kind of vaguely localised diagram in my mind, with the various fractional objects of the thought disposed at particular points thereof; and the oscillations of my attention from one of them to another are most distinctly felt as alternations of direction occurring inside the head. (300)

22 IDEOMOTOR ACTION William James developed an account of 'ideomotor action' on lines similar to those earlier proposed by Lotze. Lotze had suggested that the mental image of a definite movement had attached to it as a necessary result the appearance of that definite movement. James termed 'ideomotor response' the experience that when the subject vividly imagines moving his body he has a marked tendency to do what he is thinking. "Every representation of a movement awakens in some degree the actual movement which is its object. We think the act and it is done. An anticipatory image of the sensorial consequences of a movement is the only psychic state which introspection lets us discern as the forerunner of our voluntary acts. Movement is the natural immediate effect of feeling". James went on to suggest how one may experience this for oneself: "Try to feel as if you were crooking your little finger, whilst keeping it straight. In a minute it will fairly tingle with the imaginary change of position; yet it will not sensibly move, because it's not really moving is also a part of what you have in mind. Drop this idea, think of the movement purely and simply, with all brakes off, and presto! it takes place with no effort at all." William James' introspective account has more recently been complemented by approaches in terms of cerebral motor control by, for example, Pribram and Jeannerod.

23 USES OF INTROSPECTION In the previous extracts William James gives an illuminating account of what he observed when he attended to the functioning of his own mind. At first following Wundt and James introspection flourished. However with the approach of behaviorism first person introspection became unfashionable. Developing cognitive science has since passed beyond behaviorism but not yet returned to the central question at the heart of psychology, the unvoidable reality of our own never-ending (except in sleep) mental activity. Sterile verbalising academic techniques (asking students to report what was going on in their minds) have produced little or nothing of value. The focus of academic debate on narrow aspects of consciousness (for example, qualia) has diverted attention from the foundational question, not what can be observed or reported about the functioning of mind but how introspection can as an active process modify the functioning of mind, make introspection (in all possible forms) into something practically useful. The step now required is not more speculation and more trivial verbalising experiments but a direct attempt by individual psychologists to introspect their own minds, following the pattern established by Wundt and James and advocated by Francis Varela.

Most scientists, psychologists, anthropologists and philosophers will never have ‘applied their minds’ to introspection - other than casually noticing what they see, hear or feel. For many the ‘inner experience’ of the mind is unbroken and unregulated, mingled with current sounds, activities, feelings, concerns about the future, problems of the day. To use introspection productively the first and critically important step is to ‘STOP’ the inner flow of the mind, make a pause, if possible blank the mind. This is what the ancient Greek Sceptics (notably Sextus Empiricus) recommended and practised. Husserl’s phenomenology borrowed from the Greeks the term ‘εποχη - epochē ‘ - momentary suspension of the process of thought. The Sceptics saw epochē as a way of escape from the endless processes of verbal ratiocination (something seen also in philosophical discussions in the Middle Ages) which did not, and could not arrive at any certain truth by the exchange of verbal arguments. Every chain of propositions which was claimed to lead to certainty and truth could also be shown with equal assurance to be erroneous and to lead to uncertainty and falsehood. εποχη - epochē ‘ is essentially what all traditions of meditation aim at - a clear mind, without haste - the starting-point for whatever practical or profitable use one wants to make of the mind. A practical approach to the active controlled use of introspection is considered in the attached note on Braining

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